Tag Archives: Bluegrass

Frying Pan Celebrates 15 Years of Acoustic Jams

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Back in 1998, after a tree fell onto her Kidwell farmhouse office, Frying Pan Farm Park Historian Yvonne Johnson (now park supervisor) was working in a temporary office in a construction trailer. One day Debbie Billodeaux, a woman with a Louisiana accent and a little dog named Missy, knocked on the trailer door with an idea to allow musicians to gather and play on the front porch of the new Country Store. Johnson loved the Acoustic Jam idea and thought the sessions might draw a handful of people; however, in less than a year, 20 to 40 people were showing up to play at each jam.

Since then, visitors have enjoyed Acoustic Jams every month, as friends come together in a warm, friendly setting to play harmonies on string instruments such as guitars, banjos, mandolins, dobros, fiddles and bass. According to Johnson, a couple hundred visitors might see the musicians play on a nice day. “It was so gratifying to see the response from the visitors,” Johnson said.

Billodeaux’s dream of having a place for musicians to play and introduce music to new audiences is still going strong. The park celebrated its first “Jam-iversary” earlier this month, marking the fifteenth anniversary of the jam with cake, speeches, camaraderie, and, of course, music. Looking back, Johnson said, “Debbie came up with a great idea that improves visitors’ experiences and doesn’t cost the park anything. Over the years, the jams have touched the lives of thousands of people.”

Here is the history of the Acoustic Jam, in Debbie Billodeaux’s own words.

“The Acoustic Jam started out as a once-a-month jam on the third Sunday of each month. I was inspired to start the jam when I saw the Country Store being opened up at the park in the spring/summer of that year. I thought this would be a perfect place to jam and, I must say, very convenient for me as I live close by.  I liked jams because I could play with others, learn new songs, and the flexibility of a jam worked well with my busy schedule. At the time I was going to the CABOMA jam (Capitol Area Bluegrass and Old-Time Music Association) in Arlington. Yvonne and I talked about how a jam would work and also be reflective of how people historically enjoyed music in a rural farming community. We intentionally set the Frying Pan jam up on the third Sunday so it would not interfere with the CABOMA jam in Arlington (second and fourth Sundays).

“The first jam was attended by less than 10 people, but it grew steadily.  It was usually bigger in the summer when people can be outside.  The early jams were at the Country Store, which is near the playground, and it has always been interesting to see how kids react to live music and seeing a variety of instruments close-up. In the early years, my guitar teacher at Chantilly Music, Bill Suter, would often suggest that his students get out and play with other people. He would tell them about the jam and a dozen or more people came from his referral. I often send out an email reminder to those at the jam reminding them of the jam date and also telling them about other events and jams in the area.  Jim Norman is a local resident and dobro and bass player who attends the jam, and he pushed for us to increase it to twice a month. In March 2002 we began holding jams twice a month.

“The park staff typically will ask if there are a couple of people that can play music at the Farm Harvest Day or an event for the Friends group, and so we typically do that once or twice a year. Several years the jam has been the closing act on the performance stage at the 4-H Fair. Sometimes a picture of those performances showed up in a newspaper. The Frying Pan Jam was featured once as the cover story on the Herndon Connection. Through the years we have had a couple of people that show up to listen on a regular basis.  Margaret and Ben Peck are in that group and I have a good picture of them sitting on the porch one sunny afternoon. There was another older lady who came regularly often requesting certain songs.  She grew up in West Virginia and had heard many early country legends sing as a child.  She was a music fan and she would have her husband drive her over. When he was too old to drive, they would have friends bring them. I do not know her name, but I took a picture of her and a friend and gave her a copy.

“We have had a couple of professional musicians stop by. It is a real treat for us.  We have quite a few people that are in now or have been in regional bands. We have had a number of people that have met others at the jam and then formed small bands. We also have a lot of beginners so there is usually a big mix of experience at the jam.”

Acoustic Jams are held semi-monthly at Frying Pan Farm Park on the first and third Sundays from 1 to 4 p.m.

Written by Matthew Kaiser, Fairfax County Park Authority deputy public information officer, and Debbie Billodeaux, volunteer and park neighbor.

New Bluegrass Barn Series Brings Appalachian Music to Frying Pan

Bluegrass music has been a part of the culture at Frying Pan Farm Park for many years. Sunday jam sessions have drawn amateurs and professionals alike together to riff and harmonize on old Appalachian classics. From the cornfield to the chicken coop, the twang of the banjo and the screech of the bow across taut violin strings can be heard when the musicians gather in the Country Store. Now, the Friends of Frying Pan Farm Park are building on the farm’s bluegrass foundation with the introduction of the new Bluegrass Barn Series.   

Bluegrass musicians gather in the Country Store at Frying Pan Farm Park for an acoustic jam session.

Featuring the best local and regional bluegrass talent, two-hour performances are being held every other Sunday in the visitor center’s 200-seat auditorium. David Peterson and 1946, a traditional bluegrass band from Nashville, Tenn., performed at the first Bluegrass Barn concert on Sunday, November 4, 2012. Although the audience was small, the band created at least one new fan. Kristen Auerbach, an interpreter at the farm, said, “It was a fantastic show.  I’m not a bluegrass fan, but they won me over.” Auerbach said she plans to attend more concerts in the future.  

David Peterson and 1946 played the first concert in the new Bluegrass Barn Series at Frying Pan Farm Park.

The visitor center, built in the late 19th century as a dairy barn, was converted into a sanctuary for the Chantilly Bible Church in the 1980s. When the Fairfax County Park Authority acquired the building in 2001, it was renovated to include an improved performance space. Exposed wooden beams soaring to a height of 26 feet, hardwood floors, and a powerful sound system have made this intimate venue popular with traveling bluegrass musicians.

Bluegrass Barn concerts are held in the visitor center.

The Fairfax County Park Authority coordinates nearly 200 outdoor performances each summer in amphitheaters. Establishing an indoor series has long been a goal of Park Authority Events Coordinator Sousan Frankeberger. She said, “Frying Pan was the best fit since the park isn’t as busy during fall and winter months. We know bluegrass is very popular in Northern Virginia and has a lot of fans, and we wanted to tie into the park’s bluegrass history.”

According to Frankeberger, a grassroots volunteer committee was formed to secure high-caliber performers to play gigs at the farm in between tour stops. The committee reaches out informally to agents and touring groups to identify possible concert dates, and then official contracts are issued once the date is secured. So far, the reaction from musicians has been overwhelmingly positive. “They are excited. For them it’s another stop along their way,” said Frankeberger. She noted that lesser known bands are anticipating an increase in their fan base in the area as more people have the opportunity to see their live shows.

To tie together the new series with the traditions of the jam sessions, Frying Pan is moving the jam sessions into the visitor center from 1 to 4 p.m., before the scheduled band takes the stage. Jams, which typically draw 10-20 musicians, have outgrown the Country Store where they’ve always met. Players are looking forward to seeing and meeting bluegrass professionals, and maybe even jamming with them in the true spirit of bluegrass.

Frankeberger enlisted the help of the Friends of Frying Pan Farm Park to help promote the series, sell tickets, and to pay the performers. Jack Pitzer, president of the Friends of Frying Pan Farm Park and a bluegrass fan, said, “The Friends group will be hosting the event and welcoming folks to this new activity at the park. Any profits will be for improvements at the park.”

Frankeberger would also like to build relationships with local radio stations.  However, the majority of the publicity will come from the committee, the Park Authority, the Friends, and the performers. “It’s going to take a year or two to establish the series,” Frankeberger said. In the meantime, she’s asking all the bluegrass fans out there to help spread the word.

Don’t miss the next concert in the Bluegrass Barn Series! Appalachian Flyer takes the stage on Sunday, November 18 at 7 p.m. This five-musician band from Ellicott City, Maryland has been picking from D.C. to West Virginia since 2007. Bring your appetite! The park’s food vendor, Gordon’s Grille, will be selling barbecue sandwiches, baked beans, coleslaw, and other refreshments before shows begin and during a brief intermission.

Appalachian Flyer

The Bluegrass Barn Series is sponsored by the Fairfax County Park Authority and the Friends of Frying Pan Farm Park. Bluegrass Barn concerts can be heard on the first and third Sundays from November through April. Doors open at 6 p.m. Concerts start at 7 p.m. Tickets are $12 in advance; $15 at the door. Season passes, which include admission to all shows and offer prime, reserved seating, are available for $132. Purchase tickets online, or call 703-222-4664. For more information, call 703-437-9101.

Frying Pan Farm Park visitor center is located at 2739 West Ox Road in Herndon, Va.

By Matthew Kaiser, deputy public information officer